Making Furniture Interactive

September 5, 2007

Furniture and Art (jenn gooch)

Filed under: Exercise 1: What Is?,Jenn Gooch — jenngooch @ 8:13 pm

You will find that, as an artist, I tend to incessantly abstract definitions, answer questions with questions, and blur lines. I apologize for the length – I couldn’t really provide links that would concisely do the work justice.

As I mentioned the first day of class, I am interested in the artistic appropriation of an object, in this case furniture, as a way to borrow both its denotative and connotative qualities. The use of furniture in interactive art serves (at least) two functions: 1) furniture can invite the audience to shift into user versus viewer, providing an apparatus for an interactivity not always implied by less common objects or more formal art contexts, and 2) the creative use of a plethora of meanings different types of furniture can connote. In short, the use of furniture in art in general and interactive art in particular can make practical use of furniture as signifier and conceptual use of the signified.

While completely out of the realm of interactive, the discussion of signifier/signified and furniture reminds me of this paramount conceptual work by Kosuth.


I could go on but here are a few examples of the utilization of furniture in art either for its explicit utilitarian qualities, its conceptual implications, or both:

Laurie Anderson, The Handphone Table, 1978

handphone table handphone table sign

In this piece Anderson sets up a simple exchange, vibrations through a wooden table that can be heard when cupping ones hands. While this is not interaction by my definition in that the table cannot sense and respond, it is an interesting and early use of furniture to invite participation.

Yukio Fujimoto, Ears with Chair

Ears with Chair

This piece was at the Venice Biennale this year. Did I sit in it? No. It’s also not interactive by my previous definition, but is a classic example of inviting the viewer into an experience of art that goes against traditional audience as viewer. The sound experienced as described to me seemed hyper-binaural.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Dark Pool, 1995

dark pool

dark pool

Cardiff and Miller often utilize furniture and objects for their multi-media pieces and installations. In The Dark Pool the audience moves through a room full of furniture and debris, triggering audio and other happenings by movement and sitting on various chairs in the space. The audio is of truncated discussions, stories, and inter-personal dialog that, together with the atmosphere created by the room, creates a set and narrative.

Here is more video of the piece along with a few others.

Cardiff’s piece To Touch is more somewhat more interactive, in that participation changes the experience of the piece. There are embedded sensors on the table that trigger audio. I think it employs light sensors which implies the possibility for more interactivity other than simply a trigger. I’m not sure if this possibility was utilized.

to touch

I do not generally feel that an object’s use of a trigger (i.e. a motion sensor) to turn it on makes it interactive. Its response to your simply being there doesn’t give you the full experience of feeling part of an interaction, of having the ability to enact subtle possibilities. Though this can be made up for by quantity of sensors, most audiences are more savvy than to be fully entertained by something merely acknowledging their presence. We can get that from our grocery store door.


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